Monday, February 27, 2017

The Coca-Cola Company Supports Stricter Sugar Guidelines Than Health Canada

By Romain Behar
Last week Coca-Cola announced that they supported the World Health Organization's recommendation to limit added sugars to 10% of total daily calories.

Putting aside that it's difficult to limit that which you can't see or count, Health Canada recently announced that rather than recommend limits and listings to added sugars on food labels, they are going to do so only for total sugars.

Their rationale has been explained to me and others as being in part reflective of the fact that as a percentage of Canadians' total sugar consumption (the other was a regulatory concern that they couldn't identify added vs. intrinsic sugar by way of testing), added sugars make up roughly half of those, and therefore with Health Canada's proposed 100g limit to total sugars, and using simulated diets, they expect 50g of those to be free or added. Working off a 2,000 calorie diet (which itself may not be all that wise, but is the convention everywhere), that reflects the WHO's 10% recommended daily added sugar limit. Of course that's only if you follow Canada's Food Guide. And given that soda, candy, and what were once known as "other" foods, aren't part of the Guide, suggesting a total sugar value will serve as a useful surrogate will fail the vast majority of the population given studies have suggested  that 25% of the average Canadian's calories come from "other" foods.

Even if you put dietary reality aside for a moment, there's a big problem with the plan as more recent research calls Canadians' presumptive added sugar consumption into question. The research, spearheaded by PhD candidate Jodi Bernstein and working out of Dr. Mary L'AbbĂ©'s lab notes that prior guesstimates were based off data generated in part from the limited Canadian Nutrient File (CNF) - a database that according to Bernstein et al. lacks, "scheduled, systematic and comprehensive updating", and does not contain any brand specific data.

In the CNF's stead, Bernstein et al created their own database, the Food Label Information Program (FLIP) database, which they update every 3 years. The data was collected by way of boots on the ground in Toronto, Ottawa, and Calgary grocery stores representing 75% of the market share. There, researchers used a smartphone to scan and categorize every single item with a Nutrition Facts table (NFt). Next, an algorithm was utilized to calculate the products' free and added sugars.

Among their FLIP derived conclusions is that rather than the 50% derived from the CNF, 62% of consumed sugar in Canada is from free and added sources.

In turn that means that Health Canada's arguments in support of their much criticized plan to list simply total sugar on future NFts, are weak, and may underestimate added sugar consumption, and that if you consume 100g of total sugar, you'll be exceeding the WHO's recommended daily added sugar maximum by 24%.

It also means that The Coca-Cola Company may now be supporting stricter added sugar limits than Health Canada.

[I should note though, both the 50% and the 62% are best guess estimates. In turn I'd say that speaks to why we'd be far better off with an added rather than total sugar listing on our NFts.]